HOW TO: Adjust a Basic Hem

I know I haven’t written in a while.  Life’s been busy, and unfortunately a lot of the projects I would normally write about have fallen by the wayside.  I’m slowly picking them up again, and in honor of NaNoWriMo, I thought that I would try to start posting on a more regular basis.  We’ll start with a post I’ve been sitting on for quite some time.

So, let’s say you’re short, like me, so every pair of pants is too long. Or you found the perfect skirt, but it’s below the knee instead of above like you like. Instead of leaving that perfect item of clothing on the rack, go ahead and buy it, and learn how to do a basic hem. This is one of the things that a lot of people don’t know how to do, but it is fairly easy. If you’re nervous, you can always take the clothing to a tailor.


This pair of trousers is one that I bought on a whim online. They fit everywhere just fine, but they are too long. And where else would I find a pair of eggplant colored trousers? So, I needed to get them hemmed. The first step is to figure out how much you need to take the hem up. This will mainly depend on what shoes you want to wear with the pants. It’s a good idea to have a friend help, as trying to mark and keep it even while wearing the item can be rather difficult. These pants were already pinned before I started writing this post thanks to help from my friend, Erin. Just seeing how much I had to fold the hem back should give you an idea of how long these were on me.


In this tutorial, I’m doing what I’m calling a folded hem, because my trousers were made out of a woven material, which is prone to fraying once it’s been cut. That might not be the term you see in sewing books, but once you see the method, I’m sure you’ll understand why I call it that. If you only need to take the pants up a little, you might want to try preserving the original hem as much as you can. Here’s a tutorial on that technique for jeans. For my example pair, they were much too long, so I needed to actually cut them. Be very careful, as you can’t undo the cutting once it has happened.


I marked my pair where I wanted the fold to happen, and where I want the actual hem to be. This told me where my cutting line was. I used a hem gauge to try to keep it consistent between the two legs, but a regular thin plastic ruler should work fine. I also used a rotary cutter to cut my fabric. I prefer these because they are quick, they do straight lines easier, and they cut through multiple layers of fabric at the same time. Be careful though, they’re not pizza cutters, and they are very sharp. You’ll also need a protective mat so you don’t cut your surface.


After cutting, I did a zigzag stitch on the edge. We’re going to do everything we can to keep this cut edge from fraying, hence the folded hem. A zigzag stitch is a good substitute for using a serger, which is what professional seamstresses and commercial companies use to finish hems. Think the hem on your t-shirt.


Then I folded and ironed, and folded and ironed. Ironing helps keep all the edges crisp and keeps things lined up for when you’re planning to sew. Notice how my zigzag edge is now tucked completely inside the folds of the hem? That will also help to minimize fraying.



The last step is to hand-sew the top of the ironed fold to the actual pant leg so the folds don’t come undone. I’m hand sewing because the original hem on these trousers was an invisible hem, so I don’t want any obvious stitching. If it’s blue jeans, or you don’t mind having an obvious line for the hem stitch, you can use a sewing machine, but most of my trousers have this invisible hem. Just use a needle, pick up the fold with the thread, and pick up the pant leg. You can almost spot my hem here because I have a tendency to pull my thread too tight.



And the results. They look much better, and I can wear them with flats or heels. So have no fear. Hemming is one of the simplest alterations you can make to a garment, and if you want to take it to a tailor, it tends to be one of the cheapest.